We Depend Upon Each Other’s Toil

September 2023 · Forward in Hope

Today, more than 150 million Americans are expected to take to the air and to the highways in anticipation of the Labor Day weekend. That’s about half of the adult population in this country, and it couldn’t happen without other people. If anything proves the interconnectedness of human beings, it’s air travel. We depend upon the skills and efforts of perfect strangers to help us get to where we’re going safely and on time. Sometimes it works and sometimes … not so much. Still …

The origins of Labor Day dates back to the 1800s, when activists and workers finally convinced the government to recognize the value of labor with a federal observance. President Grover Cleveland signed a congressional act in 1894 that established first Monday of September as a legal holiday. Since its inception, the labor movement has consistently fought for better wages, reasonable hours, and safer working conditions. It led efforts to establish the eight-hour workday, end child labor, provide health benefits, and help workers injured or disabled on the job. In other words, their work has benefited us all – another example of our interconnectedness.

There’s a prayer in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer that reads, “O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

That line – “grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil” – is a wonderful reminder of the fundamental interrelationship of human lives, even in this time of dissension and angry noise. It’s good to remember that our work, whatever it may be, depends upon others … serves others … affects others.

This Labor Day, as we enjoy a well-deserved long weekend, perhaps we can try to be conscious of the sacrifices others have made to dignify labor and to ensure that we have the time off, benefits, and safeguards in place to work safely and with a sense of worth. Let us also remember how much we depend upon each other and how much our common life depends upon each other’s toil.